The Washington Wizards tied a franchise record for losses last season with top scorer Gilbert Arenas missing all but two games.With a stellar performance in the season opener, a healthy Arenas is giving the Wizards reason to believe this season will be much better.
Arenas looks to build on his highest scoring game in two years and help Washington win its second consecutive game Friday night against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena.
Finally healthy after two seasons essentially lost to knee injuries, Arenas had 29 points and nine assists in the Wizards' 102-91 victory at Dallas on Tuesday.
Arenas shot 10 of 21 and made 8 of 9 free throws to finish with more points than he had all of last season. Arenas was limited to 26 points in his two games last season and played in only 13 contests in 2007-08 because of injuries that have required him to have three surgeries on his left knee.
"He's just going to continue to get better and better," said Flip Saunders, who won his coaching debut with the Wizards.
Arenas didn't show much rust on the court. The three-time All-Star was able to pull up for long jumpers over tall defenders and dribble past guards to finish with his highest point total since scoring 30 against Indiana on Nov. 14, 2007.
Arenas played so well Washington didn't seem to miss injured forward Antawn Jamison, who is expected to be out the first eight to 13 games because of a shoulder injury.
"I felt fine," said Arenas, who was practically forced to speak after he and the team were fined $25,000 each for his silence during the preseason.
"It's a win," he added. "If we want to be good, we've got to win on the road. It feels great, but it's just one."
Without Arenas for much of last season, Washington finished 19-63, the worst record in the Eastern Conference and tied for the worst in franchise history with the 2000-01 team. The Wizards, who were 6-35 on the road last season, also lost all four games to the Hawks in 2008-09.
Arenas has missed Washington's last seven games against Atlanta with the Wizards losing six of those contests. Washington had won 12 of the previous 14 in this series.
Atlanta opened the season with a 120-109 win over Indiana on Wednesday night.
Led by Joe Johnson's 25 points and Al Horford's 24 points and 16 rebounds, the Hawks offense shined, shooting 52.9 percent from the floor and making seven of 12 from beyond the 3-point arc (58.3 percent).
Atlanta, which opened with six straight wins last season en route to a second consecutive playoff berth, came out flat on the defensive end but turned up the intensity down the stretch.
After allowing the Pacers to shoot 58.6 percent (34 of 58) through the first three quarters, the Hawks limited them to 15 points on 5 of 15 shooting while forcing six turnovers in the final 12 minutes.
"I thought that fourth quarter, when we really had to nail it down defensively, guys stepped up and made the plays they had to make," coach Mike Woodson said. "I thought it was a great effort on everybody's part, and we were able to secure the win, and that's what's important."
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